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Valley Women's Center records

 Collection
Identifier: SSC-MS-00383

Scope and Contents

The records of the Valley Women's Center provide excellent documentation of how a group of local feminists organized at the grassroots level to address a wide range of problems particular to women, as well as the struggle to resolve internal conflicts and differences of opinion. The energy and optimism of the women's liberation movement in the early 1970s is almost palpable, as are the frustrations when the organization begins to encounter difficulties. The VWC's efforts to grapple with the political and economic realities of the times are also well documented. Types of material include correspondence, minutes of meetings, daily logs, photographs, publications, and project proposals.

There is also a small amount of Valley Women's Union material, dating from 1973 to 1976. The bulk of VWU records are held by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Dates

  • 1970 - 2013
  • Majority of material found within 1971-1972

Creator

Language of Materials

English.

Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection.

Conditions Governing Access

Until we move into New Neilson in early 2021, collections are stored in multiple locations and may take up to 48 hours to retrieve. Researchers are strongly encouraged to contact Special Collections (specialcollections@smith.edu) at least a week in advance of any planned visits so that boxes may be retrieved for them in a timely manner.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright owner of this collection is unknown. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use" must also be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection as owners of the physical property.

Biographical / Historical

March 26, 1971 marked the founding of the Valley Women's Center (VWC) in Northampton, Massachusetts. It evolved from an Amherst women's liberation group consisting of 75 members to a non-profit corporation catering to the needs of women in the whole Pioneer Valley. Initially, its main purpose was to inform women about legal and educational means to improve their lives. Men were not permitted to be members of the organization. Pat Sackrey, Smith '71, started the VWC and Nancy Greenman, Smith '69, was the group coordinator.

The VWC identified itself with radical feminism, scorning the National Organization of Women (NOW) for encouraging women to obtain positions of power in a patriarchal society as opposed to dismantling the patriarchy. It also allied itself with Third World causes and political battles. In addition, VWC members were among the first to address rape as a political issue.

The VWC office was staffed by volunteers and it had an open library with archival material about the women's movement. The office was open daily and two evenings per week, offering a myriad of free services to women. For example, there was a free store on the premises where one person could donate items in exchange for someone else's donated goods. In 1971, the VWC began sponsoring welfare rights programs and vocational counseling. It also offered pregnancy counseling, its most used-service. The VWC organized classes in self-defense, auto mechanics, writing, art, women's studies and health, and sponsored lectures and discussions about feminism. The organization also facilitated support groups for women. The film co-op enabled women to create films about their own experience, as well as to come to the office to watch films about women.

In 1971, the VWC proposed to create the Women's Institute. Had it become a reality, its components would have included a group home for delinquent girls, designed to teach them independence and self-reliance; an artisan colony providing women artists "a room of their own;" and apprenticeships for women in skills programs in such traditionally gender-segregated fields as carpentry and truck driving. The Women's Institute would have supported research in women's history, in addition to developing child care services and an experimental school.

In 1973, the VWC began to face financial difficulties due to its non-profit status. The Center was chronically understaffed and the group had a difficult time coordinating child care for members who were interested in volunteering their time. Racism was also a concern since few African-American women were active in the group. The membership of lesbians, who had always been an active force in the organization, dwindled due to the later admittance of men to the working groups. These two issues caused internal conflict and declining membership.

After much thought and debate the group determined that offering free services to women did not necessarily persuade the women receiving the services to participate in the women's movement. Thus the VWC dissolved in November, 1973 and a new organization, the Valley Women's Union (VWU), was formed. The VWU occupied the same space as that of the VWC, at 200 Main Street, Northampton. The VWU was more structured, and members were required to agree to socialist/feminist political principles and to take part in political actions. The political ideal envisioned in 1974/1975 was a Marxist revolution with no couples permitted, men being bussed off to labor camps, society having universal child care, and everyone trading job duties to avoid alienation and class privilege. One example of VWU political involvement was the "women in prison" work group, formed to protest women being held in jail. This group was active in supporting the campaign to free Angela Davis. To mitigate the alienation of lesbian members, a series of talks was held about sexual orientation and heterosexual privilege. The VWU also created a "lesbian garden," a space above the main office for lesbians only. Moreover, men were excluded from general membership.

Although the Valley Women's Center faced a number of difficulties, as a result of its pioneering work a plethora of organizations were founded to provide the services that it had originally offered. The VWC was an integral component of the women's liberation movement in the Pioneer Valley.

Extent

5 boxes (2 linear feet)

Overview

Women's center. Founded in Northampton, Massachusetts, the VWC identified with radical feminism and provided a myriad of free services to women in the community, such as legal and educational resources; pregnancy counseling; vocational counseling; and support groups. The records reveal the inner workings of a local feminist organization at the height of women's liberation movement in the early 70s. Materials include correspondence, administrative records, histories, photographs, publications, and subject files.

Arrangement

This collection is organized into five series:
  1. I. Administration
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Publications
  4. IV. Projects
  5. V. Subjects

Arrangement

This collection has been added to over time in multiple "accessions." An accession is a group of materials received from the same source at approximately the same time. Note that in most cases, container numbers start over at 1 with each new accession.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The officers of the corporation began donating the records of the Valley Women's Center in 1971 and continued through 1977.

Related Material

Related material can be found in the Valley Women's Union Records in the Special Collections and Archives, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Processing Information

Processed by Burd Schlessinger, 1998.
Title
Valley Women's Center records
Subtitle
Finding Aid
Status
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Author
Burd Schlessinger
Date
2003
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Sponsor
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (https://github.com/harvard-library/archivesspace-preprocessor)
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss71 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:23-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019-04-24: Made paper FA pencil edit changes.
  • 2020-04-02: Added accession 2014-S-0020, updated dates

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Contact:
Young Library
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton MA 01063